Transformational Life Coach Lesson 2: Beauty

This series really isn’t going in any direct order, but rather its direction is completely based upon what I find and have interest in writing about at the moment. For instance, this article will probably carry more weight for women than it will for men, but by no means should men be excused from reading. Guys, I’ve never had a man ask me, “do you think I am beautiful?” But this I guarantee, ask a man what he thinks is beautiful about a woman and, even if he is silent, you know he has an opinion. Don’t lie. We all think about beauty or what is beautiful to us. When outward beauty fails to meet societal standards/desires/lusts, and depression enters in, the job of the transformational life coach is to make people feel comfortable in their own skins by turning them inward. The truth is the world recognizes forms of outward and inward beauty. Since a quotation from Michael Nulty was the impetus for beginning this, I’ll start with a quotation from him. 

Always remember that underneath all our external decorations we are all pure, beautiful beings. Don’t deny yourself, embrace yourself! No matter what age, race or sex you are, celebrate being different, your own special creation.

Michael Nulty

Though lengthy, you could probably find similar sentiments written on the inside of a fortune cookie! The world, like Christians, sees that not all bodies are supermodel pretty and external beauty is only temporary. We, too, always remember that there exists something underneath all our “external decorations” (physical attributes), and we, too, share in a desire to get underneath all the “external decorations” in search of true beauty. But (I know you were waiting for that), what we uncover when those decorations are set aside isn’t so pure and beautiful, at least not without faith in Christ, which we will discuss later. I am not planning on rehashing everything again; you may go reread the article on “self-worth.” What I want to emphasize in this article is cautiousness against being deceived; that deception is not only outside of us, but also inside us. Jeremiah writes that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9.

If you are searching inside yourself, questing for the Holy Grail of inner beauty, you best be sure you can slay your demons. “Don’t be deceived,” heralds the prophet. The devil’s forked tongue says “Don’t deny yourself, embrace yourself, and accept who you are.” This starts from the faulty premise that what exists in man is true purity and beauty, and it comes in all forms since by his reasoning you are “your own special creation.” Michael Nulty doesn’t stand alone in turning people inward for true beauty with the emphasis on accepting you for you. A simple one second google search returns these examples. 

“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”

Coco Chanel

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. you need to accept yourself.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

 “To me, beauty is about being comfortable in your own skin. It’s about knowing and accepting who you are.”

Ellen DeGeneres

What kind of beauty is this? No one really knows. You can’t place your finger directly on it because it doesn’t exist until you find it in yourself. It is beautiful because you choose it to be beautiful; you declare that whatever you find is beautiful because it is you. Think for one moment about how far that can go! What are the limits? What sort of sins and desires will be embraced and then expressed outwardly under the banner of “accepting who you are”? You see, loving yourself, then, becomes the purest form of love and the purest expression of beauty that can exist. Not selflessness and not sacrifice, but self-centeredness and self-righteousness. According to Nulty, if you deny yourself, then you haven’t come to embrace your real beauty in your uniqueness and come to accept who you are.

This sort of counseling first establishes the goal that you love yourself enough to be comfortable in showing the inner beauty that you find hidden under your exterior decorations. Second to that goal is if you don’t find anything you’re proud of, you have to convince yourself it’s there by repeating in a mirror, “I am wonderful. I am beautiful. I am enough. I am worthy.” Of course I wish I were kidding, but this sort of thing has become evident as the mirror has evolved to the Internet. Constantly popping up on Instagram stories and other social media platforms are women repeating these mantras. This has produced a toxic culture of self-love that does not allow you to be real with yourself. You can’t have imperfections; you can’t have a rough day; you can’t feel disgusted with yourself; you can’t believe you are anything less than amazing all the time. You can’t be authentic or deal with the real issues facing you like sin.

You’re deceived by both your own heart and the world if you have gone down this road. Certainly not because you aren’t loved at all or because you have no beauty, but because self-centered love/beauty isn’t true love/beauty. Let me explain a little bit. You are beautiful because you decided you are and told yourself over and over again that you are beautiful. By this reasoning truth is merely subjective to your judgments; you become the author of your own truth. How long can you honestly keep up that persona? Will that sort of thinking hold up under the pressures of life? I can guarantee it won’t, which is what makes the self-love culture so toxic. You need to surround yourself with other self-affirming people. Even though you say you love yourself and accept yourself for who you are, you’d love and accept yourself more if others admired you.

This beauty isn’t really beautiful since it exists like a leech on the world sucking the blood from its host until it feels itself fully satisfied. In other words, it is a beauty which makes you become big-headed, arrogant, and ultimately more self-centered. Again, like with self-worth, that lasts for as long as you can lie to yourself. It is an empty beauty which must constantly be fed by self-esteem, self-affirmation, and self-confidence. If/When you ever come to terms with your faults, imperfections, shame, damage, and failures, it becomes an even more tiresome workout to keep yourself believing that you are truly beautiful. Underneath the veneer, we come to find that a beauty expressed from self-love is as fragile as a porcelain vase on a pedestal in a house filled with young, restless boys. It is only a matter of time before it comes crashing down and shatters into a million pieces. 

Let’s be honest. Is it really “beauty” at all to be in love with yourself? Go and search for one positive word that can be substituted for “love for one’s self.” I did it (my favorites are the last three (found at the bottom of this page)), and you know what word never comes up? “Beauty.” There is no beauty in self-love. From the Christian world-view it is because God tells us that true beauty is found in Him and in sacrifice of ourselves for the love of others. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). 

Christians in search of beauty will not find it in accepting themselves. The quest for beauty began outside of ourselves in the Garden of Eden when God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. …So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” Genesis 1:26a, 27. That is definitive. You are made in the image of God whose beauty is so great it must be veiled before sinners. 

Then we must ask “why are things called ugly?” We know it was when Eve judged for herself what was beautiful that she fell into sin deceived by the Devil. As I wrote earlier, do not be deceived about what is actually beautiful. Eve was, though; she turned away from the word of God and judged for herself. Adam, too, ate of the fruit and plunged all mankind into sin. The image of God’s beauty was now marred by sin. What does this look like now? Our bodies wear out and become tired. We have “defects” from birth. Our bodies break. We have inclinations towards unhealthy things and over-indulgences (food, alcohol, drugs). Each child conceived by a man and woman is stained by sin, is imperfect and turned inward toward selfishness. As wrote Luther in the Bondage of the Will

How can he [sinful man] help being ungodly when he comes from an ungodly seed? As Psalm 51:5 says: “I was conceived in sin,” and Job: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” Job 14:4. For although God does not make sin, yet he does not cease to fashion and multiply the nature that has been vitiated by sin through the withdrawal of the Spirit, as a wood-carver might make statues out of rotten wood. Thus as is human nature, so are men made, God creating and fashioning them out of such a nature.

Martin Luther “Bondage of the Will”

God did not stop procreation in its tracks and end all life on earth. He still breathed life into the offspring of Adam and Eve, though they were born of Adam’s likeness in sin. We cannot begin to handle beauty if we cannot at the same time recognize the effects of Adam’s fall into sin. This is why faith in Christ becomes so important for those struggling with beauty. On the one hand you may be the one struggling with how you look because of bodily imperfections or your age taking away your once-vibrant youthfulness. On the other hand, you may be filled with such confidence in your outward beauty that an examination of your inner beauty would leave you feeling quite ugly and unfulfilled. 

Either way, the Christian quest for beauty begins in faith and is expressed from faith. Saint Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote these words, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). And Saint John records these words of Christ, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Christians are not looking to be further formed in the image of our fallen nature which is turned inward on itself, but the Christian seeks out the beauty of God being conformed to the image of Christ. 

Without faith in Christ, whatever we go in search of inside ourselves will prove to be far more hideous than our outward imperfections. The beauty of the world is found in worship of man; in other words, it is in the creation, not the creator. However, true beauty, which is beheld by God and which also expresses itself outwardly in life, is found in holding the faith. 

I can look at a Christian woman struggling to find her beauty in outward appearances and turn her toward an inner beauty just like a transformational life coach would, except it wouldn’t be to turn her to self-centeredness, but toward God in faith. Why must beauty begin here? Because that is where God begins. He is the author of creation; He is the one who created her a woman in His image. He is the one who, by the blood of His Son, redeemed her to be His new creation. God is the one who sanctified her by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the water of Holy Baptism. Her beauty will be found hidden in her faith in Christ. St. Peter writes,

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3: 3,4

The 21st century hasn’t been the only century where the measurement of a woman’s beauty has been in her external decorations. This is nothing new under the sun. Saint Peter isn’t railing against women dressing up in beautiful clothes and fine jewelry; many pious women dress their best for the Divine Services, for Baptisms, for weddings, and the like. To do so is an outward expression of their faith which sees such sacred occasions as befitting of the best and highest honor. That is not wrong. Here Saint Peter speaks against letting these things (clothing, jewelry, and hair) be what define and be your identity as a woman. When he writes to these Christian women living with unbelieving husbands, he tells them that their external beauty will not seduce a man into the faith. Rather, their unbelieving husbands may be won by their respect and pure conduct. The world purposes external beauty for seduction, but God uses the true beauty of women expressed in a quiet and gentle spirit to lead men to faith so that they might truly express the love of Christ to their wives. It’s plain to see from this that the world’s beauty goes as deep as appearances and is purposed for wickedness, but true and divine beauty, which in God’s sight is very precious, is not expressed in physical clothing and accessories, but in the expression of faith by the gentle and quiet spirit which leads to eternal life. 

Outward beauty only lasts temporarily and its effects dwindle with time; hair styles come and go, even the finest jewels need polished, and we all know clothing styles change like the seasons. Yet, one thing remains forever: the beauty of Christ which was freely given to you in Baptism. When the Father looks down and sees you, He sees the robe of Christ’s righteousness which covers all your sins, guilt, shame, weaknesses, imperfections, and ugliness. He sees that which is precious in His sight, the heart of faith which trusts in Christ. He covers you with His grace. This beauty lies hidden before the world because the world is not the beauty that it desires since it does not lead to self-love, self-expression, and self-righteousness. God’s beauty leads to self-sacrifice and love for the neighbor. 

Any faithful man, any God-pleasing, Christian man, who desires to be a husband after the example of Christ will cherish beyond all physical beauty a woman who has a heart filled with love for Christ. This man, which I pray God provides for you, if He has not already, will see what the world cannot appreciate which is your gift from God in the gospel and the pure heart to humbly submit before the Lord and himself. We know that God gives gifts to all people. Some people have more, some have less. Some might look nicer than others. But the Christian couple who dwells together in the unity of Christ’s word and in God’s blessings for marriage will have a foretaste of the heavenly beauty as they bring comfort to one another in the forgiveness of their sins and the covering of all their faults. 

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